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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Mary Mathews, 1999

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Object ID: WV0119.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Mary Haynsworth Mathews’s experiences overseas in the Red Cross during World War II and her career in the theater.

Summary:

Mathews discusses living with her extended family as a child; theater opportunities in high school; being involved in drama departments at Winthrop College and the University of North Carolina; performing with Michael Chekov’s troupe in the late 1930s and early 1940s; and working with Yul Brynner after World War II.

Mathews comments on her mother’s involvement with the Red Cross; dancing with young soldiers at Camp Croft in Spartanburg, South Carolina; and her decision to join the Red Cross. She describes her club responsibilities while in Europe, including supervising the day-to-day operations and serving donuts to returning pilots; wanting to work in a clubmobile near the front lines; jitterbugging with soldiers in Le Havre, France; interactions with wounded soldiers; her living arrangements overseas; her admiration of President Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt; the somber quality of VE Day; celebrations in Le Havre; being stationed at the same base as actor Robert Preston and later meeting him on Broadway; a Red Cross friend; washing uniforms in gasoline and living in a building with no roof in France; and the death of Red Cross worker Elizabeth Richardson in a plane crash in France. Mathews also provides her opinion of women in combat positions.

Mathews briefly speaks about her career in the theater after the war and living in New York with her husband, actor George Mathews.

Creator: Mary Haynsworth Mathews

Biographical Info: Mary Haynsworth Mathews, of Greenville, South Carolina, served in the American Red Cross from 1943 to March 1946 and had a career in theater.

Collection: Mary Haynsworth Mathews Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

EE:

Okay. My name is Eric Elliott, and I'm with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is an interview for the Women Veteran Historical Project at the university, and today I am within viewing distance of Caesar's Head, South Carolina, at the home of Mary Haynsworth Mathews.

Ms. Mathews, thank you for agreeing to do this exercise in self-revelation. We appreciate you sitting down this afternoon with us. I'm going to ask you about thirty questions plus a few in response to what you say. I always hope that the first question I ask is not the most difficult for anybody, and that is, where were you born and where did you grow up?

MM:

I was born in Greenville, South Carolina, which is thirty-five miles from here, in 1916, and I grew up there, went to Winthrop College for three years and went to [University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill for two years, graduating in 1937.

EE:

Winthrop is in Rock Hill [South Carolina]?

MM:

That's right.

EE:

How many brothers and sisters did you have?

MM:

Just one sister.

EE:

Older or younger?

MM:

Younger. Two years younger.

EE:

What did your folks do?

MM:

My father left home, leaving my mother with two small children. He was an engineer and went off to South America and never came back. So we lived with my mother's brother and my mother's mother, my grandmother and my uncle. So we had an odd family of three generations.

EE:

But a rich one, I would guess, as a result, with three generations to pull upon.

What was the high school you graduated from?

MM:

The high school, at that time there was only one, it was Greenville High.

EE:

Were you a person who liked school?

MM:

Yes. My mother was a school teacher. She had a private school in Greenville for many, many years. It still goes on under her name, but she's been gone a good while.

EE:

Did you have a favorite subject?

MM:

A favorite subject? Probably was theater, forever theater.

EE:

What was your first theater experience?

MM:

I don't remember that. I was always in plays, even in grammar school. Then high school, we had quite a good department and I wrote a play based on a poem by DuBose Hayward. I acted in it, too. I acted a mountain woman. Now I am a mountain woman. But I was fifteen at the time.

EE:

So did they have a good department for drama at Winthrop? Was that one of the reasons you thought that that was—

MM:

No, not really. My sister and I were practically the whole department. We did whatever we wanted to do.

EE:

And then you heard about—was Paul Green in charge of that department at Chapel Hill when you transferred there?

MM:

No. Professor Koch was, but Paul lived nearby, and I think he had something to do with the graduate students.

EE:

So you transferred up in '35. That's got to be a little difficult, coming in the middle of the Depression as an out-of-state student to Chapel Hill.

MM:

Yes. It took my mother years to pay for it. She borrowed the money from Chapel Hill, from the university.

EE:

Did you live on campus, I guess, when you were up there?

MM:

Oh, yes. There was one dormitory only, Spencer Hall, I think it was called.

EE:

Most of the women at that time were at the place I represent, Woman's College. In fact, I had not a few of them who said they wished they were at Chapel Hill. So the fact that I'm interviewing a woman who, in the thirties, was at Chapel Hill is going to incite some degree of jealousy.

MM:

Yes. I think there were three hundred women and three thousand men, which was just the right proportion.

EE:

I was going to say. And you learned about opportunity at a young age.

MM:

Yes. And my sister came up there, too, the next year. So we were both there, and we were both in the drama department.

EE:

What were your aspirations? At the school did you specialize in any particular kind of work or theater style that appealed to you? What were you looking to do beyond there?

MM:

Just act. I wanted to be an actress, which I became.

EE:

Were you looking Hollywood, [California], Broadway, [New York City]?

MM:

Broadway.

EE:

You graduated in '37. Tell me what happened to you after that.

MM:

Well, the first summer I worked on the first production of The [Lost] Colony. Then later in the summer a bunch of us went up to Nantucket, [Massachusetts], and took some plays from Chapel Hill, some one-act folk plays, to a summer theater in Nantucket. From there I went to New York and tried to get a job in the theater. I didn't. I heard about a group in England with a Russian director named Michael Chekov, who was the nephew of Anton Chekov, the playwright, and he had this group in Dartington Hall, England. We would audition in New York with a Russian woman named Tamara Daykarhanova, and she sent Americans over there to this school. So I got a scholarship, and I went over in the Spring of 1938. I was supposed to stay at least three years, but the war came along, and an American backer who lived there—she's an actress and still alive; she's in Hollywood—she moved us, the whole school, back to Connecticut in [December] '38.

We came back before the war started. Then we trained as students for about a year, and then we did a production on Broadway. Then we toured a lot. I was with the group for five years altogether. We toured all over the eastern half of the country, did two shows, two different shows, on Broadway, and then in '42 we broke up because all the guys went to the service, one service or another, and Chekov, our beloved director, went to Hollywood and made some movies as an actor. He was a well-known actor in Russia. And that was the end of that group. So that's when I started trying to get in the Red Cross.

EE:

You did this from '38—

MM:

Through '42.

EE:

Were you in this troupe, then, when Pearl Harbor day happened? Do you remember anything about Pearl Harbor day?

MM:

Yes. We were playing on Broadway. I certainly do remember.

EE:

Was in the middle of the show when they made the announcement?

MM:

No, because it was on a Sunday. We weren't playing on Sunday so we heard about it Sunday and then we had to come back the next night, but I do remember that sometimes during the intermission there would be announcements over the radio in the lobby that the audience would go out and hear President Roosevelt make some speech, things like that.

EE:

So it was already becoming difficult to have a civilian life separate from the war because the war was taking over everything?

MM:

Yes.

EE:

You could have done something other than the Red Cross if you wanted to. What made you choose the Red Cross as opposed to other things?

MM:

Well, when our group folded up at the end of '42 I came back to Greenville, and my mother was very active. She and a couple of the other ladies in Greenville ran a GI club at the old textile hall, and they ran a small officers' club in Mama's school building.

EE:

Was Camp Croft open then?

MM:

Yes, I think so. That's in Spartanburg [South Carolina]?

EE:

Right.

MM:

Yes. There was an air base in Greenville, Greenville Air Base, and so my mother would recruit the daughters of all her friends to come and dance with the boys. I was a little bit old by that time. I was twenty-seven and the boys were like eighteen and nineteen, but Mama wouldn't tell them how old I was. She was never very good at lying, she simply could not tell a fib, but she would say—when they would ask her, “How old is Mary?” she'd say, “Well, she's practically twenty-four.” [laughter]

So that's how I got interested. I thought, well, this is something I could do, and I found out that they preferred you to be between twenty-five and thirty-five years old and preferably with a college degree. So I applied to some person in Washington, [D.C.], and I had to go up there for an interview and then come back home and wait until I was called.

EE:

There's a terminology which maybe you could help me clear up because I've interviewed a few folks. No woman was drafted into service. Everybody volunteered to go into whatever they did, and yet, when someone my age hears the word “Red Cross volunteer,” of course, they think of short-term duty or going down to give blood or emergency work. You volunteered to join, but then you were paid.

MM:

Oh, yes. We were well paid.

EE:

So it was good money for the work?

MM:

Oh, yes. It was good money. And we didn't have any expenses. You could save most of it once you got overseas.

EE:

Because I guess you basically got room and board plus a salary, right?

MM:

Oh, yes.

EE:

So the group broke up in early '42?

MM:

No, late '42. And I came back to Greenville at the end of that year.

EE:

And then you were in Greenville for about a year before you were called up?

MM:

Yes.

EE:

So it was probably mid-[19]43 when you applied in D.C.?

MM:

Yes.

EE:

It then took a few months to get called together?

MM:

Yes.

EE:

Where did you go once you got the word that they wanted you?

MM:

To Washington. We had two weeks of training. We mostly just learned the ranks in the different services.

EE:

How to relate to military people?

MM:

Yes, because we didn't know where we would be sent or which branch of the military we'd be with.

EE:

And once you were assigned to a branch you didn't really get day-to-day orders from a Red Cross supervisor. Whenever the local CO [commanding officer] said, “I need people here, I need people there—” you really were attached to the service?

MM:

Yes. Right. And we left Washington, the group I was with—there were a hundred girls in that group, and we went to New York, and we got on a ship. Now, we were pretty certain that we were going to Europe. We could tell by the uniforms that we were issued as we got on the [RMS] Queen Mary. We took off for England, and when we got there, then we were assigned—I forget how that went. I was assigned to an air base.

EE:

But they sort of got everybody together and they said, six of you here and six there?

MM:

Yes. And some of us—there were two at a time. One would be the head of the club and the other one would be her assistant.

EE:

And were you assigned to work in a club, then, that first job?

MM:

Yes, at an air base.

EE:

And a club meaning a service club or officers' club?

MM:

GI club. Oh, no. It wasn't officers.

EE:

This would have been the eastern part of England?

MM:

Yes. Not too far from London, about an hour from London, I guess. Essex, somewhere in Essex, I think it was.

EE:

What was a typical workday like for you at that location?

MM:

Well, in England we had a lot of help that made the donuts, actually, and the coffee. So we simply ran the club, had the music going. Oh, and then we had to meet all the flights that came in with coffee and donuts. I think the air force even provided a shot of brandy or something for the guys that were coming back from a flight, from a bombing mission. We didn't get any of the brandy but the guys did.

EE:

They should have said, “You're doing the work. You go ahead and have the brandy.”

MM:

It was the flights coming in, I think, that we met. I don't think we had anything to do with them going out.

EE:

They'd fly night time runs during the day? Was it all twenty-four hours a day you had to be on alert?

MM:

Yes, at different times, day and night.

EE:

Did you work a six-day week, seven-day week?

MM:

I think we had a day off every week. Because there were two girls, there would always be someone there, you see. But then, someone always had to go into London to get supplies. Just like in France, we had to go into Paris to get supplies, one of us would have to go.

EE:

Most of the women that I've talked to, their time in the service is their—if not their first time away from home, it's certainly the first time to new places. You come in ahead of the curve on that score because you're a seasoned traveler. You're not afraid of the world. You've been engaged with the world for some time. Do you think that gave you an advantage over most of the folks you worked with?

MM:

I don't know. I guess so. No, most of the gals that I worked with were pretty sophisticated.

EE:

I guess being older and most of them having gone to college, they were not homebodies, they were not afraid of travel?

MM:

Yes.

EE:

How long were you at this base in Essex? Were you there for D-Day?

MM:

No, I was moved. I was there about two months, and then I was promoted and I went to Norwich, [England], way up north. It was a bigger base with B-24s. I was in charge of the club, and I didn't like that at all because there were too many English gals that were working for me, and they always treated me with this class difference, as if I was something special and they were underlings, and I didn't like that. I asked to be returned to a smaller base. But I was at Norwich for D-Day, I remember. It was shortly after that that I came to another base [in Essex] that was either B-25s or B-26s, sometimes the one and sometimes the other, and that's the group that I stayed with when we moved to France. My friend Fitje was with me, and we stayed together for a good long while. We were moved with our 386th Bomb Group to a bombed-up airbase north of Paris. We made a club in a beat-up building and stayed there for many months. In the Spring of 1945 I was afraid the war was going to end and I would never get anywhere near the front. I wanted to be in the clubmobiles and get where the action was, being young and foolish.

So I applied for a change to the clubmobile. Fitje didn't want me to do that, but I did it anyway. And where did they send me? To Le Havre, [France], which was further from the front. But that was interesting because, as I've showed you the pictures of all those GIs coming in that had been prisoners of war and men still arriving from the States going to fight. We met every plane, train, and ship that came or went. The guys were herded into a huge warehouse to await the next assignment with two orchestras, one playing at one end and one at the other.

We were told when to be where, to meet what ship or what plane, and then we would be two gals at a time, usually, wherever, all over the map—in the warehouse jitterbugging with the GIs. That was the main thing we did. Of course, they liked the coffee and donuts, but they liked the jitterbugging more. One brave GI would be the one who would get out in the middle and all the rest would be in a big circle around, cheering him and you on.

EE:

When you first joined the Red Cross, did they sort of have certain areas of work that you could pick from? You said you wanted to switch to get into clubmobiles. Did they ever give you an option earlier on, or did they just assign you where you—

MM:

No. They just assigned us.

EE:

But the kind of work that Red Cross women were doing was clubmobiles, was working in these clubs, was, I guess, being assigned to hospitals to assist there. Any other kinds of work Red Cross people were doing in the war that we should know about?

MM:

I didn't see any Red Cross girls that were nurses. We sometimes went to hospitals if we were sent there for brief visits.

EE:

So all the Red Cross personnel in hospitals were nurses?

MM:

As far as I know. In Le Havre we [clubmobile girls] were sometimes sent to hospitals. There's a story in that book, you know, about a guy that I talked to in a hospital—he [was] emaciated. He'd been a prisoner, and he just weighed 102 pounds, and he said his wife back home was pregnant and he was going to be sent to another hospital, and he had no address to give her. So he asked me to write her and have her write me when the baby was born so then I could find him. So I did that, and I heard from her, and it was twins. I had to trace this GI through a couple of hospitals, and I found him finally. He was much better. He'd gained thirty pounds, but all he said when I told him—he said, “Oh, my aching back.”

I said, “Are you all right?”

He said, “I guess so. I'd better get back to bed.” [laughter]

I was weak myself after that. He was really shook up.

EE:

I'll bet.

When you were stationed in England at the bases, did they have a separate barracks just for Red Cross personnel, or were you stationed with other women in other branches of the service, or how did that work?

MM:

We had rooms in the club, little bitty rooms.

EE:

So you lived there. I guess that makes sense, because if you got a bombing run in the middle of the night, you might have to get up in the middle of the night and make coffee and donuts and get ready for those folks coming in.

MM:

Yes.

EE:

You were at Norwich for D-Day, went back to a smaller base in Essex where they had B-25s and B-26s, and then that group took you over to an air base just outside of Paris, and I gather from the information in the script that that must have been around August of '44? You've got that picture of the GIs being scuttered in Paris. Were you there when those shots rang out?

MM:

From the newspaper, you mean?

EE:

From the newspaper article.

MM:

Yes. Yes, we were on that base when that article came out.

EE:

But you weren't actually in Paris when that—

MM:

No, no. We weren't in Paris. We were a good hour outside of Paris in Les Andelys—was that it? I can't remember. Maybe that's another place I'm thinking of. Where were we?

EE:

Well, if there's any language that I slaughter more efficiently than English, it's surely French. So we'll have to look that one up.

MM:

I can't remember what the name of the base was.

EE:

You're not going to be lucky like one woman who said, “That place with all the mirrors.” I said, “Versailles?” She said, “Yes.” That's the one place I would know.

How long were you stationed there before you were switched back out to Le Havre? A month or so?

MM:

Well, let's see. I was at Le Havre for VE [Victory in Europe] Day. That was—

EE:

That was May of '45.

MM:

So I must have been switched out there in April.

EE:

Just before. Okay. Were you at Le Havre when [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt passed away?

MM:

Yes.

EE:

Okay. That was the end of April. What did you think of Roosevelt?

MM:

Oh, I was crazy about him.

EE:

What about Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt?

MM:

Oh, I was crazy about her, too.

EE:

I think both the president and Mrs. Roosevelt visited air bases in England from time to time when they were over that way. Did you ever have any dignitaries come to visit you at the places you were stationed?

MM:

No.

EE:

Actors and actresses, that being your profession? No USO [United Service Organizations] folks coming through?

MM:

No. Once there was a dancer that I knew who was a well-known dancer with the Ted Shawn [and His] Men's Dancers. He came to one base, and I had to tell all the GIs that I knew, “Oh, you're going to love it,” you know. Oh, I was worried sick.

EE:

Please behave.

MM:

But they behaved very well, and this guy, Barton Mumaw was his name, he had wit enough to wear GI clothes or a sailor suit or something and did very athletic dances, nothing that looked like ballet. So I came through that all right.

EE:

I read somewhere, I guess it was the back of Mr. [George] McDermott's little essay on you [in his book Women Recall the War Years]—I knew that you had stayed active in dance. Was that something that you did in addition to theater all along?

MM:

Yes. I always studied it, yes. At Chapel Hill I started.

EE:

Were you at Le Havre through VJ [Victory in Japan] Day in August?

MM:

No. I was in Germany by then.

EE:

So you were at Le Havre for VE [Victory in Europe] Day. Did they lock you all down at the base and say don't go anywhere, or what was VE Day like for you?

MM:

Well, the girls were all in jeeps riding through the streets. But I wrote to my mother and said the French weren't very enthusiastic. They just looked weary. And the planes that the guys we knew were flying overhead and we were riding in the jeeps, and I wrote Mother that it was a very somber sort of parade because there was no band playing. I don't know. It wasn't very exciting.

EE:

It wasn't what you thought it was going to be?

MM:

No. We were excited, but the French people weren't—they were just too weary, I think.

EE:

Even today, you know, they're still having trials of people in their eighties who were accomplices with the Vichy regime in sending people off to concentration camps. They're still trying them. So it was a different experience.

What was the social life like for you? I mean, your job is to bring good will to these folks. How do you tell an excited young GI, “Okay. I'm off work now”? How does that go?

MM:

Well, now, let's see. One of the bases where I was stationed with Fitje in England and France, one of our officers was the well-known movie actor who did The Music Man. What's his name?

EE:

Robert Preston?

MM:

Yes, Robert Preston. But he went by his own name, which was Captain [Robert Preston] Meservey, and Fitje and I usually, after we closed up our club at 11:00 at night, some friend of Fitje's, an officer, would take us over to this tiny officers' club, which was about half as big as this room, and we could have a drink there before we retired. Captain Meservey was always there sitting at a desk writing his wife, and we would say, “Good evening, Captain.” I never told him that I'd been in the theater. I mean, I thought he'd think I was making it up. But I saw him almost—you know, night after night writing his wife.

Well, some eight years later—whenever it was that I married George—George was in a [Broadway] show with Robert Preston. So I went with George once to his dressing room. I said, “We'll surprise him,” and I walked in with George, and George said, “I think you might remember this dame here.” He looked at me, and he said, “I see a uniform. I see an air base. The 386th Bomb Group.”

I said, “Right. Right.”

I had never had any conversation with him at all except to say, “Good evening,” every night, but there were only two of us girls so he at least remembered what I looked like. But that was kind of funny.

EE:

By any chance, do you know—I wish I could remember her first name. I think her last name is Greene. She was in charge of the recreation at a Red Cross base, I think either at Norwich—it must have been at Norwich. Her last name was Greene. She currently lives in Wilmington, [North Carolina], and she ran into Robert Preston.

MM:

Oh, really?

EE:

So he made an impression on a lot of people out there.

MM:

Oh, he's so nice. Then I got to kind of know him after I was married to my husband and they were in a play together. He was really nice. So was his wife. I met her, too, the one he wrote to every night.

EE:

Good to know people do that.

MM:

Yes. And he stayed with her forever, too.

EE:

Great. I guess as a Red Cross personnel you are not military but you have access to officers' club?

MM:

Yes. Oh, yes. We had all the officers' privileges. And we even had their ration of liquor every month, something like six bottles. When we got to France it was nice.

EE:

Right. You could actually celebrate with six bottles, huh?

MM:

Yes.

EE:

Are there particular songs or movies—you're more cognizant of this than most. Are there particular things that, when you see or hear them, take you back to that time?

MM:

Yes, I guess music. The records we had on the record players in the clubmobile and in the clubs.

EE:

That you played over and over again.

MM:

Over and over.

EE:

What were some of the more popular ones?

MM:

Oh, “I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,” whatever that was and, you know, “Tie a little ribbon around the old oak—” I can't remember them now, but if I hear one, suddenly it all comes back.

EE:

Let's see. “A bluebird over the white cliffs of Dover”? That would be a good one for England, I would think.

MM:

That would be one, yes.

EE:

You were at Le Havre, and then you went to Germany.

MM:

Yes.

EE:

When did that happen? Where did you go in Germany?

MM:

I went to a place called Fulda.

EE:

I know the place.

MM:

You do? Up above Heidelberg and up above Frankfurt. And then we went out in the clubmobile every day to small groups of GIs who were out in little country towns with absolutely nothing to do. I think we were more appreciated there than we ever were anywhere else.

EE:

When you were at Le Havre—were you doing clubmobile at Le Havre?

MM:

It was called clubmobile, but we didn't have a clubmobile because we were in these big places meeting the ships.

EE:

Did you learn to drive this clubmobile, or did you have a driver?

MM:

Yes. I learned that in Germany. I had already been driving things in England and France, you know, smaller things like weapons carriers and jeeps and whatever, anything. We could drive anything.

EE:

On the wrong side of the road?

MM:

Yes, in England on the wrong side of the road, and sometimes it was an American thing and the steering wheel would be on the American side of the road, which made it difficult. But you learned.

EE:

How long were you in Germany?

MM:

The rest of my two years, so—

EE:

Which would have been through early '46?

MM:

Yes. I think I came back in late March of '46.

EE:

And you were at Fulda the rest of that time?

MM:

Yes. I think I was always at Fulda.

EE:

Specifics aren't that critical. You told me that VE Day was subdued, not what you expected. What about VJ Day? Do you remember anything happening then?

MM:

Not much, no. That didn't make much impression.

EE:

It didn't really change the day-to-day for you all, I guess.

MM:

No, it didn't. A lot of the guys that we knew had already been sent—after VE Day they'd already been sent to the Pacific. So I know they were—if they were still on the way out there, they must have been overjoyed at the news.

EE:

Yes. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It makes it seem like everybody assumed that the war would be over in three months, but nobody knew the bomb was coming.

MM:

Right.

EE:

And everybody, I think, assumed that we were going to have a ground invasion like we had in Europe.

MM:

Yes.

EE:

I could tell from the way that you reflect on things that this was a good experience for you.

MM:

Oh, yes.

EE:

Do you feel that you contributed to the war effort?

MM:

Oh, sure. Oh, definitely.

EE:

And apparently you keep in contact with some of these folks still to this day?

MM:

Only that one girl, Fitje, that I was with longest.

EE:

She was with you from England?

MM:

England and France, on the small air bases.

EE:

Did the men that you worked with—it's really more of a problem, I think, as women get more integrated into jobs that the men had, where you get into problems like sexual harassment, where people give you grief for being a woman there. I don't think that you had the kind of—I think people were grateful to see you.

MM:

Well, there was quite a difference. It was funny that when we were running a club, the guys, they didn't want to help us. They would joke with us and, you know, pretend we were too old. We got along with them fine, but they weren't helpful. When we got to those little places in Germany with the clubmobile and these stranded guys, well, they looked forward to us arriving, so they would do anything for us. They would save up corn on the cob, for instance, that they would find somewhere, and we had to sit and eat ten ears of corn on the cob.

EE:

That wasn't hard to do.

MM:

Or they would—sometimes they were allowed to hunt, you see, and the Germans weren't. So they could kill deer. And they would have venison. And they would treat us like queens. We weren't used to that at all in the club.

EE:

It's the difference between being appreciated, isn't it?

MM:

Yes. In the clubs we were just another GI, just happened to have a skirt on—well, we didn't have a skirt on. It was most often pants and battle jacket.

EE:

Yes, or that jumpsuit. You left in March of '46. That length of time after the war, how did you end up staying that long? I guess you signed on for the duration, didn't you?

MM:

Yes, for the duration plus six months. I think you could have gone home at the end of the war if you wanted to. They didn't really need you. But I wasn't ready to come home.

EE:

Did you think about signing up with the Red Cross stateside?

MM:

No.

EE:

Time to come back?

MM:

Oh, yes, get back into the theater if possible.

EE:

What was the hardest thing, either physically or emotionally, that you had to do during your time with the Red Cross?

MM:

I don't know. Well, the physical difficulty was mostly on that base in France, dealing with no water and no roof over—well, there was no roof on the building and no windows and no anything. It was just a shell of a building until we got the roof put on. We had to, you know, bring water from somewhere in a bucket and wash your face in a helmet. We had to clean our uniforms in gasoline that came from the airplanes, and it was high octane. We would dip these uniforms in a bucket of gasoline, and our hands would turn purple, you know, it was so cold. That was physically hard, that winter. But we never got sick because we had on warm enough clothes, and we never went from a heated building to outdoors. Everything was cold.

EE:

Did you have trouble with women who could not take such rough conditions?

MM:

No. No. Never.

EE:

You didn't have physical training like a lot of the other services would make you get?

MM:

No. No.

EE:

What about emotional? What was tough for you?

MM:

Well, I guess the main thing that happened was one of our gals in Le Havre was killed in a plane crash. She was the head one, the one we really adored. Her name was Elizabeth Richardson, and she was tall and not good looking, but such charm. When she would get dressed in the morning she would go to the mirror and she would say, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Elizabeth Richardson.” That's the kind of gal she was.

EE:

Full of life.

MM:

Yes. And she went—she flew with one of our liaison plane friends to Paris one day. She had to go once a month to do things because she was the head—she was the head of all seventeen of us girls there, and that plane crashed, and she and the pilot were killed, and that was terrible. We had to write her mother and father, and we went to the place where she was buried, the big graveyard. That sort of thing went on for quite a while. The loss of Elizabeth was dreadful. Of course, we lost plenty of pilot friends, but it wasn't like—like knowing them that well.

EE:

I guess that's one thing that steels you a little bit from it, is that most folks you only get to know for a short period of time. It's easy to be positive and upbeat if you can just inject that into their life for a short time.

MM:

Yes.

EE:

Everybody meets interesting characters in their time in service, and I know you're a study of character, having studied the theater. Are there any particular people that you've met in your time in the military that stand out in your memory?

MM:

They kind of blur together. In the military?

EE:

When you were in the military. Civilians or Red Cross or military folks. You know, you come from South Carolina and you meet people who are from all over the world, all different personalities. Some are very brilliant, some are not too bright, some are very sweet, some are not too sweet. Anybody that clicks in your brain?

MM:

Not really. Probably—the commanding officers were always nice. I liked all of them but we didn't know them too well. But the first girl I was stationed with was—her name was Ruth Sulzberger. She was the sister of the present editor of the New York Times. What do they call him? He's got a nickname. I can't think of his nickname, but you know who I mean.

EE:

Yes. I'm trying to think. Was it Rosenthal? They just thrust him into retirement, I think, after all these years writing editorials.

MM:

Well, I remember her. I wasn't with her very long, though. She was the head of that club, the first one I went to, and then I was moved away, but I remember Ruth.

EE:

Were you ever in physical danger or afraid during your time in service?

MM:

Not really, no.

EE:

You didn't get queasy about—I guess you were in a convoy on the way over, were you not?

MM:

No. It was just the Queen Mary.

EE:

I guess the Queen Mary was fast enough.

MM:

Every once in a while something would explode under the water. I don't know. You'd hear about it, but I don't know what they were. Mines? I don't know.

EE:

But you didn't have a memory of being afraid?

MM:

No. Nothing scared us.

EE:

What was your most embarrassing moment? You must have had one.

MM:

Embarrassing moment. Probably trying to use some of that plumbing in Germany, like at a restaurant where there's a hole in the floor, trying to figure that out, not knowing who to ask.

EE:

When you were in Germany could you interact much with civilians or did you have to have an armed guard when you were going around with the clubmobile? How concerned were they about you and your partner going in a clubmobile going to these outlying folks? Did they worry about that?

MM:

No. No. No worry.

EE:

Almost everybody I talked with talks about how what they did they did in part to help—patriotic—it was part of their duty. Were you at any time ever afraid that we were not going to win the war?

MM:

Oh, no. Never afraid.

EE:

This wasn't an option?

MM:

It was touchy during that winter of the Battle of the Bulge, you know. That was that bad winter when it was so cold.

EE:

You were at Le Havre?

MM:

No, I was at the air base in France, and you were a little worried for a few weeks that winter because you just didn't know what was going to happen.

EE:

When you think back about that time, are there people who for you are heroes or heroines?

MM:

I don't know. I remember such strange things, like the pilots coming back from a mission, and it was so cold that the men were trying to find any wood they could so they could make fires in their tents, and I remember meeting one of the planes in the afternoon in daylight coming back, and they had to make a belly landing because everything was shot out underneath, and the ambulances were there and the firefighters in case the plane exploded. But the pilots and the crew got out of that plane and ran over to a pile of wood that they could take back to their tent.

EE:

That was their first concern, was wood.

MM:

And the plane did not explode and catch on fire, but it could have.

[End Tape 1, Side 1—Begin Tape 1, Side 2]

EE:

Most of the people that you were working with were about your age. Most of the soldiers you were caring for a little bit younger than you?

MM:

Quite a bit younger, yes.

EE:

Quite a bit younger, noticeably so. That sort of, maybe, minimized the romantic entanglements between the Red Cross and enlisted folks, I would guess.

MM:

Yes. I didn't know of any.

EE:

Did you keep up in fairly regular mail with folks back home, V-Mail and things like that?

MM:

Oh, yes, yes, with my mother. Yes. At least once a week, and she wrote me at least once a week. Those are all the letters that I still have.

EE:

That's great. Many folks, when they look back at that time in our history, will say that among the many changes that World War II brought is it made folks realize that women could do a lot more in society than what they were doing beforehand. Do you feel that part of what you did and other women did was blazing a trail?

MM:

I expect so, must have been. Yes.

EE:

How did your time serving in the Red Cross affect you later on, do you think, in the long term?

MM:

I know that I wasn't as shy when I came back after two years of talking to thousands of GIs as I had been before.

EE:

That's interesting because, coming from a theater background, I would never have thought that that would have been a problem for you to begin with.

MM:

Well, but it is with so many actors. That's why they're actors, because they're so shy they feel more confident when they're playing someone else.

EE:

Somebody else's words, somebody else's script.

MM:

That's right.

EE:

When you left the service you came back to Greenville, I guess.

MM:

Yes.

EE:

Tell me about what happened in your life after that.

MM:

Well, let's see. I appeared in Greenville in one play with the [Greenville] Little Theatre. It was the Barretts of Wampole Street. Then I went back to New York and got—what did I do? Oh, first I got a job at a summer theater somewhere. I've forgotten which one. Then I got in a Broadway play, where I met my husband, and we toured it for a few weeks out of town and it was no good and they closed it out of town. We never played it in New York but at least I met my husband. And I was playing his wife in the play. He was a big guy, and this was about big people and little people. The name of the play was The Big People. Wiser heads prevailed and they did not open it. However, after that I got a job on a banana boat. I didn't marry George for several years. I got a job working for the United Fruit Company on a banana boat going to Cuba and to Guatemala, seventeen-day cruises, and I did that for three cruises, and that was enough. I quit.

EE:

Were you entertainment? Is that what you were doing?

MM:

Yes. I had to arrange the shuffleboard contests and the bridge games and like that.

EE:

You did not want to be a cruise director is what you're telling me.

MM:

Not forever. There were a hundred passengers, and the joke was that United Fruit Company treated every passenger as a pest and every banana as a guest. [laughter] So they hired me to try to stir up some entertainment. So anyway, I did meet, on the last cruise that I went on, an elderly gentleman named Richard Skinner, who ran a big theater company in Olney, Maryland, and he hired me, and I worked three summers down there in the regular company.

They had stars that came in, but they had a regular company that rehearsed a week and the star would come in, and you'd have a run-through with the star and you were on for a week. That was the old days of summer theater. But that was a good job, and I got that as a result of being the cruise director. I worked a lot of summer theaters and did some live television. An old friend from the days of the Chekhov Theater was Yul Brynner, and he was a television director in New York, and he used to give some of us, his old pals, he'd give us jobs in live television, small parts, you know. So we managed to survive. Then finally George and I got married.

EE:

When did you all get married, early fifties?

MM:

Fifty-one in Greenville.

EE:

And you were in New York for much of the next twenty years?

MM:

Until 1974.

EE:

Till 1974, when you came down here to this property. And then you say your husband lived here for about ten years before he passed away?

MM:

Yes. He had been a long time in the theater, in movies. He made about twenty movies, I guess, and oh, fifty or sixty Broadway plays. I mean, he'd been in the theater forever, and he was constantly working. So I didn't have to work anymore. Sometimes I worked if I got a job with something that he was in.

EE:

My cousin, my wife's cousin actually, tours in Broadway productions. He specializes in musicals. His wife is in musical theater, too, and she's always in one show and he's in another.

MM:

Well, they're both working all the time.

EE:

They're both working. Occasionally they'll luck out and get something together, and if she gets a really desperate need to be close, she'll do dinner theaters someplace near where he's got a job, and that's how they stay together.

MM:

But are their shows out of New York?

EE:

Most of them are out of New York. He had about a five-year run, was always on Broadway as an understudy to some part, either Les Mis[erables] or that Beauty and the Beast thing. He's had a good run, and he just went up there by the skin of his teeth to do that. It's exciting to hear that folks can do what they love.

MM:

Yes.

EE:

And gets you empowered to do that.

You worked beside people in the military, and since World War II a lot more women have done things in the military. How do you feel about women in the service? Are there some jobs that should be off limits to women or should all positions in the military be open to women, do you think?

MM:

I think there's some that should not be open to them. I don't know exactly what, but there must be some that they shouldn't be doing.

EE:

I think December of this last year for the first time we sent a woman combat pilot into action in Iraq bombing Baghdad. What about that?

MM:

Well, she did all right.

EE:

She hit as many targets as the rest of them, I think.

MM:

Sure. Sure.

EE:

You have some wonderful photos and have some great memories from that special time. I have asked about all the cards that I have to flip through to ask. Is there anything about your service that I have not touched on, either active time in the Red Cross or how it affected you later, that you'd like to share with us?

MM:

I'd have to read my letters from Mama to remember these things. I read them and I say, “Did I do that?”

EE:

You don't remember. I know.

MM:

I don't remember that at all.

EE:

As best as you can recall, if you had to do it over again, would you?

MM:

Oh, yes. Definitely.

EE:

Well, on behalf of the school, I want to say thank you for sitting down and doing this.

MM:

My pleasure.

EE:

I appreciate it.

[End of Interview]